As he put his neck on the block of wood as ordered, he thought to himself.
“I am a citizen. So it will end in an instant. That much, is a good thing. But really . . . why?”
In the last moments of his life, Gaius Cassius Longinus was perplexed. His life – it wasn’t supposed to end like this. His thoughts went back in time . . .
He was a man under orders, as he had told even the man. He had heard the man was a healing man from the talk of the people. Longinus knew he himself was one of those most hated – and his type most of all, since they were the boots on the ground. But he went and asked anyway. His best and most beloved servant was very near to dying. The healing Man could have ignored him, but he actually listened. He thought to himself:
“All I said was the Legion Code – ‘When a man has authority, he uses it and makes things happen.'”
He was willing to come to my home, but I knew that was forbidden to me and to him. I told him the Code, told him about my authority. He said something about my saying all of that – that my servant would be healed. By all the gods, he was a strange man, but when my other servant came running up telling me that Marcus was again well, I had to turn and look at the Healer. He smiled as if it was supposed to be, and then went about whatever he was talking about to the people gathered around him. When I got home, Marcus was acting as if he were a new man, active and energetic and as happy as he could be. I was amazed. “Perhaps,” I thought to myself, “I should have asked about my own failing eyesight.” But I had troops to watch over and direct. I was soon back to my business. Marcus was well, I knew he had things covered at home. Doing what I do is not an easy life, and the things Marcus could and would do were very valuable to me. I went about my business.
But I kept tabs on the Healer. He was always talking about “forgiving my neighbor.” It was a strange, very unfamiliar idea. but I began to use the idea in my dealing with the people. Whatever works, I thought to myself. If it made my job easier – all the better. And it seemed to do just that – not only with the people, but with the morale of my troops. Such an attitude does make things better for me. But I realized it was somehow making me see things about myself I wanted to be better. He was a strange man indeed. And Marcus was daily proof of that.
I received new orders. I, and my men, were placed as the new Temple guards. This people were a riotous bunch, true, and we had to keep law and order in place. That one murderous idiot, Barab – whatever his name was – he killed one of my own soldiers. Can’t have that – way, way out-of-bounds. I gave him over to my superiors in chains. He was caught in the act, so I knew he was a doomed man. For a second, I wondered what the Healing Man would have thought. But I had a job to do.
Then, things seemed to go crazy. There was a big celebration in the city, and somehow, the Healer seemed to be the focus of most of it, if not all. The Healer caused some problems, but I warned my men not to act too suddenly. I knew there seemed to be some odd thing about it all, but yet again, I had a job to do, and the boss was not a big fan of wholesale butchering. I had at that point, wished I had stayed on my father’s small farm, following in his footsteps. But the military beckoned with its glory, and I succumbed and joined. I promoted quickly in this forsaken outpost, but now, keeping matters in hand become a serious chore. A man under orders!
He wondered about the Healer. He spoke of that same thing. Except, it was odd – he called his commander “Father.” Then he heard the command. He braced himself.
His last thoughts went back to the events that one week. They let the Healer be after he trashed the merchants’ tables. They were a pain, anyway. He had some serious words for those in charge of matters, but again, he could not fault the Healer. But then, Thursday, he disappeared. At the time, he wondered why. Later that night, in Gethsemane, he had somewhat of an answer. He simply asked why when told to arrest the Healer, but his boss was adamant. So he had his troops do the deed. He hated it, but it was what he had to do.
His troops got stupid with whipping the man. He had to stop them. He wanted to remove the thorns from the man’s head, but things were moving fast. Pilate had given him little choice. He felt helpless, and yet, somehow responsible. Then came the orders – Jesus was condemned to a cross. The murderer of his troops set free. It made no sense whatsoever – where was Roman justice? But then, wherever was he was there – in Palestine.
He did the deed and led the prisoner to the Hill. He had to do so. Nothing about it was right, but it was not his call. He had, for years, taken orders as well as giving orders. He could only do his job.
He led the march to the Hill. He tried his best to keep his men from whipping the Healer, but the end of the march would lead to its inevitable end. It did. The spikes through the hands, more painfully through the feet. He remembered wincing. He had helped his servant. He heard Pilate – this was absurd. But what could he possibly do about it?
He heard all the words the Healer spoke, even hammered to the wood. The man was beyond describing. Even hanging in death, he seemed defiant. How could the man be so? But then, suddenly he quit, and the quick-moving clouds meant making sure. The other two men hanging were on the edge of death. But the Healer, in the middle, had already declared he had given his spirit to someone, and died. He did the only thing he could at that point – aimed his spear at the heart of the man to be sure. He hated crucifixions. So like the many barbarians they had to deal with, but the people had demanded it. As he plunged the spear into the Healer’s side, he saw the blood and water come fly out for a moment, until the flow hit his eyes. It burned. He grabbed the red robe of the healer from one of his men and wiped his eyes.
He was speechless. His vision was as it was in his youth – perfect. But more than seeing perfectly, it suddenly hit him. He didn’t mean to be vocal in saying so, but the words tumbled out of his mouth – “Truly, this was the Son of God.”
Those words were the motivation for all he did afterward – resigning his commission, and following the disciples of the Healer. He knew the two men who had met the Healer that Sunday afternoon going to Emmaus. The men were incredulous about the whole matter, but somehow, the old centurion understood. He had heard the Healer’s words in the people’s courtyard. Pilate seemed confused, and finally just had water poured over his hands. The old Roman custom of “being done with a matter.” The Healer had made the incredible prediction of rising from the dead, and the two fellows who had journeyed to Emmaus that afternoon – they were good men who would not make things up. They had seen something that had completely changed who they were.
The old centurion fully understood now. Jesus was Who He said He was. Longinus was there and heard the Healers’s words even on the Cross of His death. He had healed Marcus because only He could. He now understood it. The man was the God He had always said He was. His healing of Marcus was no accident, but intended – for not only Marcus’ sake, but Longinus’ as well. He understood.
He heard the command – he knew it well. He relaxed, and prayed simply, as had the one man on the side of the Healer at his death – “Lord, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” Longinus knew he was heard at the instant the blade of the executioner’s ax touched his neck. But –
He knew . . . and that was enough.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches consider Gaius Cassius Longinus a saint. He is not mentioned in the “received” Canon of Scripture, but only in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. The history of Longinus can be found here, pb